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6 Types of Skinks in North Carolina (Pictures)

Skinks are a diverse group of small to medium-sized lizards that can be found on every continent except Antarctica. They have long, sleek bodies and smooth scales, and some have bright colors. Skinks can be found in several different types of habitats, from deserts and grasslands to forests and rocky outcrops.

They also make popular pets because of their hardy nature and interesting behaviors. There are over 1,500 different species of skinks, but you can’t find them all in one place. In North Carolina, you can find five species of skinks. This article will discuss these species and how you can tell them apart if you see them. 

6 Skinks in North Carolina

While there are over 1,500 skink species in the world, at least six call North Carolina home. These skinks you can find in North Carolina are the five-lined skink, the southeastern five-lined skink, the broad-headed skink, the little brown skink, the ground skink, and the coal skink. 

1. Five-Lined Skink

Common five-lined skink 
Common five-lined skink | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Plestiodon fasciatus

The five-lined skink is one of the most common and widespread skink species in North Carolina. As the name suggests, these skinks have five white or yellow stripes that run down their backs. These lines are more prominent in juvenile five-lined skinks, but the lines lighten as the skinks mature and eventually disappear.

A great way to identify the five-lined skink is to check the middle row. If it appears wider than the other lines on the skink’s back, then you are probably looking at a five-lined skink. The juvenile five-lined skinks also have a blue tail that fades as they grow older. 

Adult five-lined skinks grow to between 12.7 and 21.6 cm in length. Five-lined skinks are active during the day and are often found basking in the sun on rocks or logs. They are also known for their quick movements and may dart into crevices or under objects if disturbed.

They are opportunistic feeders and will eat a variety of insects and other small invertebrates. This species breeds during the spring and summer. The females lay between 15 and 18 eggs.

She will brood her eggs, meaning she guards them against predators. However, when the eggs hatch 30-40 days later, she stops her parental behavior a day or two later, and the baby skinks are independent and must fend for themselves. 

2. Southeastern Five-Lined Skink

Southeastern five-lined skink
Southeastern five-lined skink | image by gailhampshire via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Plestiodon inexpectatus

The Southeastern five-lined skink also has five yellow or white lines running down their backs that fade with age. The juveniles have bright blue or purplish tails. They look a lot like the five-lined skink, but their tails are shorter, and the stripes that run down their backs are narrower.

This species is also larger than the five-lined skink, growing between 18 and 20 cm in length. Like other skinks, the southeaster five-lined skink can drop its tail if it feels threatened. The tail continues to move, distracting the predator so the skink can escape.

After a skink drops its tail, it slowly regenerates it. These skinks breed in the summer, and the female lays 6-12 eggs. Like the five-lined skink, the female protects the nest until the babies hatch around a month later. 

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3. Broad-headed Skink 

Broad-headed skink basking
Broad-headed skink basking

Scientific Name: Plestiodon laticeps

The broad-headed skink is a skink species in North Carolina that is easily recognized by its large, broad head and stout body. Adult males have bright orange heads, while females and juveniles have more muted brown or gray heads. Adults grow to between 6 and 12 inches in length.

The broad-headed skink can be found in woodlands, forests, and rocky outcrops. Their diet consists of insects, spiders, and other small invertebrates. They have even been observed shaking wasps’ nests in the hope that pupae will fall out.

The wasp’s stingers can’t penetrate the skink’s smooth, glossy scales, so they are not in danger when attempting to snag this treat. Like many other skink species, the broad-headed skin relies on tongue flicking to detect chemical signals in the air.

They can use this to find other skinks, especially during mating season. The females lay between 8 and 13 eggs, guarding them for 8 to 13 weeks until they hatch. After that, the little ones are left to care for themselves. 

4. Little Brown Skink

Little brown Skink
Little brown Skink | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Scincella lateralis

The little brown skink, also known as the ground skink, is a small skink species found in North Carolina. Little brown skinks are small, slender lizards with a smooth, shiny appearance. The adults only grow to an average of 4 inches in length, including the tail.

They have a light brown or grayish-brown body with darker stripes or spots on their backs. They have short, thin legs and long tails that can be easily broken off if grabbed by a predator. These little lizards can be found on the forest floor, under dead leaves or rocks.

Unlike other skinks that live in forested areas, this species rarely climbs trees. This species breeds between April and July, and the female lays 2-3 eggs. She lays them in rotting wood or damp soil and guards them until they hatch around 22 days later. 

5. Coal Skink

Scientific Name: Plestiodon anthracinus

The coal skink is one of the smallest skink species in the US, measuring between 3 and 5 inches in length. Coal skinks have dark brown or black bodies with four distinctive light stripes running down their backs. They have slender bodies with short, thin legs and long tails.

Coal skinks are primarily found in rocky or forested habitats, where they can be seen basking in the sun on rocks or logs. These skinks are active during the day and feed primarily on small insects and other invertebrates. Coal skinks often retreat into crevices or under rocks or logs to hide when threatened. 

Breeding typically occurs in the spring, with females laying 2-5 eggs in a shallow nest. The eggs are leathery in texture and hatch after 4-6 weeks. The hatchlings are independent and able to fend for themselves from birth.

6. Ground Skink

Ground skink on a log
Ground skink on a log | image by Greg Schechter via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Scincella lateralis

The Ground skink is found in just about any type of habitat in North Carolina, but prefers a wooded area that is open and has an abundance of leaf litter. This species of skink measures 3 to 5 ½ inches long and is black to golden brown in color. They will have a dark stripe that runs down each side of their body.

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As their name suggests, ground skinks don’t climb often and like to stick to the ground. Female ground skinks lay between 1 and 7 eggs at a time, and they can even lay 5 clutches in one year. These eggs typically hatch in 22 days, but may take a little longer depending on the weather and temperature.